After posting a single song, "Ungirthed," to a rather spare Tumblr, Canadian duo Purity Ring took the pop and electronic music world by fire. Buzz from festival performances grew to a hum as anticipation grew for their full-length debut, Shrines. It has been called many things: witch-house, future-pop and doom-step among them, but it's mostly a really excellent pop record that sounds entirely of the moment with melodies that promise to stand the test of time.
Purity Ring's playful tracks, ethereal moods and dark themes live in a heavenly and earthly contrast, guiding the listener with otherworldly sounds but lyrically digging in the dirt as vocalist Megan James sings of bones and earth and attachment over Corin Roddick's spacey hip-hop driven tracks. We sat down with Roddick to check in as they begin their current tour, which will bring them to Dallas for a sold-out show on Wednesday the 23rd at the Granada Theater.
I was lucky enough to catch you in 2011 at Fun Fun Fun Fest and it's been remarkable to watch your trajectory since that moment. So much has been written about your sound, but straight from the horse's mouth, can you describe what's so unique about the Purity Ring aesthetic?
That's actually something I'm not really good at. Describing any music is actually something I am really terrible at. When I am playing for someone and they say, "What does it sound like?" I always end up making it sound really bad. If someone is making something new, there isn't really a way to describe it at all. I would really prefer people just enjoy it for what it is and not get so stuck on creating labels or names for it.
People do seem obsessed with trying to describe Purity Ring though. Why do you think we are all so eager to name it?
I don't know. I think some people just get freaked out. They don't know what it is so they have to name it, so that they can know what it is, maybe.
Do you think Purity Ring freaks people out?
I don't think freaked out is the right word. I think our music is too accessible to really get freaked out by. But I think when people hear something that is unfamiliar to them they get stressed out and they feel like it might be their job to categorize it for everyone else.
I know that you wrote Shrines, almost in a long-distance relationship, sending tracks and lyrics back and forth over email with (vocalist) Megan James. Now that you are on tour and have such close proximity, is it changing the performance or your experience of the music?
Sort of, we wrote so much of the album before we performed live ever, so we weren't sure how the songs would come across in the live performance or even how we would perform them. Just performing live can change your feeling about the music you have made. We haven't really worked on much new music, but I am sure that will impact that process and it will be different somehow.
What is your sense of the audience reaction? Going from this place where people are really discovering you to now having audiences sing along with the album. What is your experience of that on your side of the stage?
It has been really interesting. You have been observing us over the past year, but we have been observing this process the whole time. This time a year ago, no one really knew who we were and most of our set people didn't really know our music. Now the audience is responding so specifically to the music. It's really nice, actually.
Has anything surprised you along the way?
Not really, but there are these nice moments. Sometimes you will play a song that isn't necessarily a single and you kind of think that maybe people haven't gotten into it because it's just an album track, but then you play the first few notes of a song live and everyone cheers, and it's this nice, "Oh, everyone loves this song," because sometimes you don't really know if people are following along or not.
Is there one song that stands out as a track people are consistently responding too?
There isn't one in particular. It seems very city-to-city. It's clear every city has a favorite song, but different sounds catch on in different areas. It's not necessarily predictable.
Do you feel like you were ready for this response from audiences? From the outside it seems like once "Ungirthed" was posted on your Tumblr, it's been kind of a whirlwind.
I don't think I expected this all to happen so quickly, but I was ready for it. This has been what I have always wanted to do, and now I get to. We have been working for this.
Can you describe to me how you have worked to make your live show coherent with the album? It is clear visuals are very important to your aesthetic, but after spending so much time with this album sonically, I am curious how you will extend that into your live performance.
I think that it is a transition that required a lot of thought because we are definitely an in-the-studio, electronic-music-based band and when we are writing the music we are so focused on the music that you aren't necessarily thinking of how you are going to translate it live. When I come up with a music part, I'm not worried about how I am going to perform it because I am just trying to do the best thing for a song.
Then when you are finished you really have to step back and say, OK, how do we perform this? And I think for electronic musicians it's really important to consider how you are going to perform it live because there is no way to really re-create your sound live the way a drummer or a guitar player would in a different band. You can't 100 percent re-create, so if you want to remain semi-true to that experience you have to find an interesting way to go about the live performance. The biggest thing for us is making it a visual experience and I think it's really important for an electronic act to have a strong visual identity because when music is made on a laptop, it's not always exciting to see it performed on that same laptop.
And you have made a really interesting instrument to address those concerns. Can you tell me about the kit you use to perform live?
The bottom line is really that we wanted to be able to create a mood, or multiple moods on stage and give each song its own visual identity live through the use of lighting or smoke, or anything visual, really. We built this instrument to perform the songs on, and the principle is that you see us hit it and it responds by lighting up and then playing what you hear. The idea is similar to the experience of seeing someone playing the drum, you see their arm move and then you hear the sounds.
I think that is something missing from a lot of electronic music, actually. You hear these sounds but you don't necessarily know where those sounds are coming from. I haven't really thought of it that way — this visual piece gives the music some new foundation, right?
Yeah, that way it doesn't come out of thin air. It gives the audience something they can interact with.
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Much has been said of your production skills, can we look forward to you creating tracks or producing for other artists?
Yeah, I really hope so. That is something I am very interested in doing. I mostly listen to very mainstream hip-hop, pop and R&B, so I'd really like to work with any artists that fall into that camp.
And what about the next chapter for Purity Ring? The last year has been a landmark one, what is next?
We are still touring quite a bit and will be traveling through summer. I will be working on new music when I get the time. Once we complete the Shrines tour, we will go back into full gear working on new music. Whether that is singles or a full length album, we don't really know yet. We want to take what we have done before and build on it to make it interesting. So that people who like the music we have made, will like what we make again but with some added elements, so that we can make a fresh thing.